Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

A remote, crumbling mansion. A fragile old woman in a coma. Three intrepid burglars. All Hallows' Eve. Livid has all the ingredients of classic (not to mention cheesy) horror. What it does with them is, ultimately, something unexpected.

Chloé Coulloud is Lucie, a trainee care assistance with different coloured eyes which her trainer, Mrs Wilson (Catherine Jacob) says mean she has two souls. Lucie snorts at that; it's just discolouration of the iris. She's a down to earth young woman. She's had to be, to cope with her mother's suicide and her father's lack of interest in family life since. Now she has a boyfriend, William (Félix Moati), who works on a fishing boat, and a friend, Ben (Jérémy Kapone) who works in the pub his mother owns. When she tells them about the old woman who lives in the big house, and the rumour that she has a secret treasure, William is determined they should rob the place. She reluctantly agrees and the three of them walk into a trap.

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From the outset, Livid is beautifully photographed, shifting between colour palettes as it shifts tone with an elegance that recalls the best work of Dario Argento. This gives it a grace that carries it through the contrived elements of the set-up and goes some way toward excusing muddled plot elements later on. On the one hand, having our young anti-heroes bump into trick-or-treaters en route is tacky; on the other, the way it's shot makes it surprisingly affecting. All the young actors deliver naturalistic performances that become disconcertingly out of kilter with the increasingly surreal events that surround them. The build-up is slow and deliberate, gradually shredding the nerves of the viewer. Violence, when it comes, is not only brutal but also represents the unexpected intrusion of one reality into another. It's properly shocking because mortality simply isn't real to these kids - at least not the young men. Lucie's difference is apparent from the start, first making her sullen and awkward, then revealing itself as a source of strength.

Like all the strongest giallo, Livid draws heavily on the Gothic tradition. Elements that sit askew from the rest of the narrative often seem to hold the key - sometimes literally - to what is really going on. Things that make no sense on the surface suddenly cohere on a symbolic level. The film uses established horror film symbolism - images of ballet, taxidermy, decay and bloody murder - to draw out deeper themes. When they emerge, their emotional impact is out of all proportion to the rest of the film. As in their previous work, Bustillo and Maury are interested in the relationships between mothers and daughters and in issues of identity and exclusion. There's a loneliness, a melancholy at the heart of Livid that is truly haunting. It takes familiar tropes one might have thought had no more life in them and unravels them to dazzling effect, bringing us back to the essential questions about humanity that originally gave them their weight.

There's plenty here for conventional horror fans, with a real sense of terror and buckets of grotesquerie, but Livid, despite its occasionally twee moments, goes the extra mile. Expect yourself to be puzzling over it - in a good way - for weeks afterwards. And watch it closely. Its early scenes of care work, full of little cruelties, speak boldly about isolation; but it is in the ties that bind that the deeper existential horror lies.

Reviewed on: 10 Aug 2012
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A trainee carer's scheme to rob a comatose patient's house by night triggers supernatural horrors.
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Director: Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury

Writer: Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury

Starring: Chloé Coulloud, Félix Moati, Jérémy Kapone, Catherine Jacob, Marie-Claude Pietragalla, Chloé Marcq, Béatrice Dalle

Year: 2011

Runtime: 88 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: France


Glasgow 2012

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